Democracy in Crisis?
This week on Facebook: I returned to the subject of democracy, my earliest post on this being in 2009 (No to Democracy), continued in 2011 with (Democracy ‚ Do we really have it) and Democracy in 2016. What follows is new material and while I have written a number of articles on democracy, those of 2009, 2011, 2016 and now this one are — to my mind — the essentials. This post’s title ‘Democracy in Crisis‘ is taken from the 2018 updated link in the image below from Freedom House.
For those who may read the articles that I publish, I have to say that those this week are (for the most part) long reads. However, articles that I publish are not selected to be necessarily palatable to me or any other reader. I arrived at this week’s offering on Democracy through my past interests and especially last week’s remarks in Meritocracy Versus Democracy. Each step adding to the conviction that I have always assumed to live in a Democracy while failing to understand the difficulty in establishing it, and the ever increasing difficulty of maintaining what little of it may exist.
The cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy! H. L. Mencken — Notes on Democracy (page 10)
Democracy (as it is assumed to be) has never been anything other than in a state of crisis¹, as Mencken observed, any failure can be resolved by an evolving and ever changing notionally democratic system. While trying to find suitable articles for this week, it seems to me that depending on what political views are held, the term Democracy takes on many different forms and quite often precludes what are assumed by some to be the essential requirements of a democratic process. This democratic process is complex² and no Democracy guarantees the moral rights and personal freedoms of the Demos.
Asking in Tuesday’s article if Democracy is for the Demos, the questions are raised that: Facing the devastating and seemingly overwhelming power of the modern State, how can a free and very different world be brought about? And, How in the world can we get from here to there, from a world of tyranny to a world of freedom?
It seems to me that the nature of the ultimate revolution with which we are now faced is precisely this: That we are in process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy who have always existed and presumably will always exist to get people to love their servitude. (Aldous Huxley – Berkeley 1962)
The questions that democracy raises are many but taking the two that I have mentioned, moral right and personal freedom which, like all subjective terms used to describe democracy, can be interpreted in many different ways. People from what may be described as the Demos, often choose to challenge the laws of the State over their own interpretation of them³.
Democracy, I believe, should always be invited to the table but rarely left to dine alone. I mistrust the quivering, awe-struck deference to Demos as though to some sacred text or divine and inviolable authority. The trouble with democracy is that you just can’ t trust it.
H. L. Mencken may well have been right in Wednesday’s article below with his acerbic satirical writings on government, democracy, politicians and the ignorant masses, but he also had the freedoms to write as he did whilst living in a decidedly undemocratic democracy. Freedoms that are certainly constrained in a meritocracy and increasingly constrained in a democracy. The demos appear to accept — even wish for — authoritarian leadership and oligarchic rule.
What Was Democracy? Democracy, as we know it in the modern world, is based on a peculiar compromise. The word to which we pay such homage means the “rule of the people.” But insofar as we can claim to govern ourselves at all, we do so in a remarkably indirect way. Every few years, the citizens of modern democracies make their way to the polls to cast their votes for a limited set of candidates. Once they have acquitted themselves of this duty, their elected representatives take over. In the daily functioning of democracy, the public is marginal.
Is Democracy for the Demos? In a democracy, liberty is simply the right to cast a vote for or against an issue or candidate, and then to accept the decision of the majority under threat of the apparatus of coercion and compulsion. Here, in essence, the political die is cast, with the singular vote having no effect. The voter must abide by an outcome even though he disagrees, and will likely lose property and property rights in the end. This arrangement is no different from one where the voter casts a symbolic vote, a vote that remains uncounted, with the outcome already determined by the whims of the tyrant.
H. L. Mencken Was Right: H. L. Mencken was a renowned newspaper columnist for the Baltimore Sun from 1906 until 1948. His biting sarcasm seems to fit perfectly in today’s world. His acerbic satirical writings on government, democracy, politicians and the ignorant masses are as true today as they were then. I believe the reason his words hit home is because he was writing during the last Unraveling and Crisis periods in America. The similarities cannot be denied.
What’s Gone Wrong With Democracy? — Democracy is going through a difficult time. Where autocrats have been driven out of office, their opponents have mostly failed to create viable democratic regimes. Even in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife. Yet just a few years ago democracy looked as though it would dominate the world.
Democracy and Democracies in Crisis. — Since it is the democratic West that has built the security, political, and economic institutions that constitute the liberal world order and that have produced unprecedented peace and prosperity over the past seven decades, this crisis of legitimacy now threatens to shake the foundations of contemporary global civilisation.
Referenced Articles & Books: A book or pdf (usually free), or simply a url that may sometimes link to a download that is also usually free. Sometimes a link to JSTOR is used, this lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 3 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.
¹Authoritarianism Goes Global: The Challenge to Democracy (book): In ‘Authoritarianism Goes Global’, a distinguished group of contributors present fresh insights on the complicated issues surrounding the authoritarian resurgence and the implications of these systemic shifts for the international order. This collection of essays is critical for advancing our understanding of the emerging challenges to democratic development.
Video Time: 1hr 40min 10sec
²The Spectre Haunting Europe (pdf): The real appeal of liberal democracy is that losers need not fear losing too much: Electoral defeat means having to regroup and plan for the next contest, not having to flee into exile or go underground while all one’s possessions are seized. The little remarked downside of this is that to winners, liberal democracy denies full and final victory. In pre-democratic times—meaning the vast bulk of human history—disputes were not settled by peaceful debates and orderly handovers of power. Instead, force ruled: The victorious invaders or the winning parties in a civil war had their vanquished foes at their mercy, free to do with them as they liked. Under liberal democracy, the “conqueror” gets no such satisfaction.
³The Democratic Disconnect (pdf): In a world where most citizens fervently support democracy, where anti-system parties are marginal or nonexistent, and where major political forces respect the rules of the political game, democratic breakdown is extremely unlikely. It is no longer certain, however, that this is the world we live in.
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